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1. National Geographic News: “Mars’s Water Could Be Below Surface, Experts Say

Stas Barabash and his colleagues at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics recently completed an analysis of atmospheric data garnered by the Mars Express orbiter. Why? The team was looking to discover what happened to the water and carbon dioxide that are postulated to have once covered Mars.

What’s most telling, however, is why the team is searching for the missing water and CO2. National Geographic News quotes Barabash’s explanation:

Knowing [more about the ancient Martian climate], we could speculate whether or not conditions were suitable for any complex structures [like organic materials] to develop.

The question is thus directly related to the question of Mars’s habitability.

In other words, scientists are still searching for signs of life on Mars. And why, in turn, is that? Because secular scientists are still “searching” for a way to account for the origin of life on earth, as Barbash admits: “The origin of life, in my opinion, is the most important question the modern science is facing.” There is little doubt that, as scientists continue to flounder in their search for a natural origin for life, more and more will hypothesize that life came from somewhere other than earth (see Water, water, where are you?). Yet this does little more than “move” the problem, which lingers on: how could nonliving molecules “accidentally” become life?

2. Reuters: “Rare shark captured on film“

In science news this week, reports-and video-of yet-another “living fossil“: the frilled shark, which routinely lives over half a mile under the ocean’s surface and is rarely seen alive.

Reuters reports the creature is “sometimes referred to as a ‘living fossil’ because it is a primitive species that has changed little since prehistoric times.”

The video was taken by staff at Japan’s Awashima Marine Park, who captured the shark after a fisherman’s tip and placed it in a saltwater pool at the park. Sadly the shark, which was already in reportedly “poor condition” when sighted, died soon thereafter. Of course, living fossils are not exactly evidence for ongoing evolution.

3. ScienceNOW: “Dinosaur Double-decker

Making headlines this week are reports of a new study on an old so-called “feathered dinosaur,” called Microraptor gui, thought to have flown (or glided, really) using four wings. The new study, headed by paleontologist Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University and aeronautical engineer Jack Templin and published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, argues that the ancient creature’s four wings were arranged similar to a biplane, with the hind wings “in a staggered position below and slightly behind the larger forewings.”

Of course, the exact position of the hind wings is not a major issue in the creation/evolution controversy. But the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs is a major point of argument. See our section on alleged bird evolution for more information.

4. LiveScience: “Fish Capable of Human-like Logic

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PhysOrg.com: “Fish can determine their social rank by observation alone, study finds

Stanford University scientists studying the behavior of small fish called “cichlids” have determined that fish (these ones, anyway) “have the reasoning capacity of a 4- or 5-year old child” when analyzing which of their rivals is strongest. Individual cichlids observed various fights between five of their peers (two at a time), which were manipulated so that cichlid “A” beat cichlid “B”; B beat C; C beat D; and D beat E. The observer (or “bystander”) cichlids, who had not participated in any fights, were then released into the tank with only two other fish: either A and E or B and D (neither pairs had ever fought before). In all cases, the bystander cichlid would avoid the “strong” A/B fish and hang out with “weak” D/E fish instead. This indicates that fish have the ability to perform the type of reasoning called “transitive inference”: though A never actually fought E, A beat B, who beat C, who beat D, who beat E. The fish hung around E, showing they recognized the relative strength of A over E.

Of course, the supposed evolutionary connection has not been overlooked; Stanford graduate student Logan Grosenick called it “a philosophical matter as to whether the cichlids’ ability to infer rankings is the same as similar reasoning in humans,” while Stanford biology professor Russell Fernald explains that “Cognitive capacities that evolved in fish may contribute to human transitive inference, or perhaps this capacity evolved independently. The question remains unresolved.”

Another explanation-unfortunately overlooked by these scientists-is that fish were created with an appropriate degree of intelligence for their environment (though this intelligence would not have been used for conflict resolution before the Fall of Genesis 3!). Thus, fish also join the ranks of animals whose intelligence shines (see the December 2 News to Note, item #7).

5. Reuters: “Are you a giver? Brain scan finds the truth“

A neuroscience team from North Carolina’s Duke University is reporting results of a brain study on altruistic behavior, according to Reuters’ Maggie Fox. By recording brain functions while study participants played games, the team determined that brain function patterns match up with participants’ descriptions of their own altruism-how selfish or giving they are. But the most interesting comments come in the last few paragraphs:

[Study leader] Huettel believes it is valid to try to assess altruism scientifically.

“It is hardly the case that all altruistic acts come from people who are religiously faithful; there are undoubtedly many altruistic atheists,” [h]e said.

“And, a religious explanation would have considerable difficulty explaining why some animals help others of their species at significant cost or danger to themselves.”

Huettel seems to be assuming that the “religious explanation” of altruism is that religious people are altruistic and the unreligious aren’t (though this idea is not without merit). However, one must ask Huettel how altruism can be explained at all without religion; for instance, animals risking their lives to help one another can only be understood as altruism if one invokes a religious explanation (that these animals, created by God [even though not in His image], have some ability to act selflessly). If these animals are merely acting in self-preservation, then it’s not altruism at all.

Interestingly (and coincidentally), Prometheus Books (no friend of creationists) announced a new book this week: Kindness in a Cruel World: The Evolution of Altruism by Nigel Barber. The press release plainly describes the book’s take on what altruism “really” is:

What do mutual grooming, politeness, priestly celibacy, military heroism, car insurance, and overwork have in common? All are probable examples of the recently discovered evolutionary mechanism called “reciprocal altruism.” Put simply, the concept means, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Although rare in animals, reciprocal altruism colors much of human emotion and social behavior.

Of course, this raises the obvious question: if altruism is merely done to get something in return, what makes it fundamentally different than other animal or human behavior? Furthermore, this view effectively alleges that the altruistic efforts of millions worldwide are ultimately selfish acts (though one wonders what earthly benefit Mother Teresa, for example, received in return for her humanitarian efforts in Calcutta).

But it’s clear what’s leading to this contradiction: the presupposition of the author, who-the release states-”[b]egin[s] with Darwin’s theory ….”

6. The Guardian: “Intelligent design to feature in school RE lessons

British teenagers will be discussing intelligent design in the classroom if recommendations from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are followed. The QCA guidelines, published earlier this week, state that the new recommendation “aims to deepen pupils’ awareness of ultimate questions through argument, discussion, debate and reflection and enable them to learn from a variety of ideas of religious traditions and other world views.” The catch? This analysis of “creation and origins of the universe and human life and the relationship between religion and science” will come in the religious education classroom, not the science classroom.

On one hand, any crack in the wall of evolutionary indoctrination is a positive sign; on the other hand, these classes may easily be led by vehement anti-creationists who could potentially distort the debate. One thing’s for sure: this only underscores the responsibility for parents to educate their children biblically.

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!

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